May 07, 2008

Online discussion privacy

Writing about web page

Interesting observation from David Escalante, director of computer policy and security at Boston College, made at the Educause conference on campus security last week:-

If online discussions had been around when today’s presidential candidates were in college, he suggested, their words might be dredged up and used against them now by political enemies. “Can you make a statement in an online forum and not worry that someone’s going to whack you with it later?” asked Mr. Escalante. He said that many class discussions take place using course-management systems, and that the discussions are usually archived — and sometimes even made public online. Making discussions public that have traditionally happened behind closed classroom doors could hamper freewheeling debate, he said. He suggested that colleges make sure that online discussions can only be seen by students taking the course. Or that if discussions are made public, that students be allowed to remain anonymous (except to the professor). Even so, however, there’s nothing stopping students in a course from saving all class discussion to their own drives and making it public later.

When NAGTY closed up shop, we were asked not just to archive all the messages which had been posted by its students on our discussion forums system, but to delete them completely and put them beyond the reach of recovery. But we certainly see cases of students asking us after they’ve left the university whether it’s possible to go back and remove their messages in discussion forums, or their comments on Warwick Blogs. Both institutions and students need to think carefully about the long-term implications of student comments being digitally preserved.

- 2 comments by 1 or more people Not publicly viewable

  1. Steve Rumsby

    There is certainly a case for providing an environmen were people should be free to say what they think at the time, without fear of it being held against them later. That sort of environmnt is, I think, a necessary part of the learning process. That seems to mean that if it is provided electronically the archiving policy needs to be clear up front. That’s a discussion educational institutions need to have before setting up such online systems.

    However, the online world is a lot bigger than whatever institution you happen to be studying at, and you won’t necessarily have the same sort of control over forums and blogs hosted elsewhere. What you say thee may well be around for a very long time. Google can find evidence of my online presence from over 20 years ago! In general, you want to be sure you only say stuff online that you’d be happy to stand by a long time in the future…

    07 May 2008, 10:12

  2. Sue

    I agree, surely that applies to things you say off-line too though and you’re unlikely to say things you wouldn’t want to stand by. I didn’t realise it was possible to have an online presence 20 years ago but I would love to stumble across something like that in 20 years time.

    08 May 2008, 16:29

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